“I’m still flying that flag,” says designer Mac Collins when I ask if his studio will remain outside the London bubble. Currently based in Newcastle, where he graduated from Northumbria University, Collins grew up in Nottingham and has been harboring the cities creative energy since he burst onto the scene.
The day before our chat, Collins was teaching 10-year-old students how to build wooden benches. “They did a pretty good job,” he tells me. The school had a majority of students from ethnic minorities and he hopes that projects like this will allow young people to become aware of employment opportunities in furniture design as an industry, “it plants a seed”, says Collins.
Mac Collins: Community, Identity and Radical Representation
Community and identity are central to Colin’s studio. When he graduated in 2018, the ikva chair was exhibited at the graduate show, New Designers. Since then, the design has developed its own legacy. “Killing is a throne to inspire empowerment in the face of oppression,” Colin’s Instagram caption in 2018 read. “It was the first opportunity for me to fully explore identity in the piece,” Collins explains of how he thinks about Iqlva. Previously, he had only written about the roles and responsibilities of black artists, but this time, he explored it through making. The chair’s Afrofuturistic design alludes to socially critical issues, alluding to the Windrush era and civil rights movements. “I wanted to create something that would elevate the person sitting in it,” he says.
When Benchmark started producing Iklwa, they didn’t change its character – only the colors and the narrative evolved. At the Harewood Biennale in 2021, it came in a shade of pink called “Thaneray (Tenroy)” and stood on a plinth looking out a window. The intervention was a way for visitors to reflect on the complex history of Harewood House, built on money raised from slavery. Collins delved deeper into this with ‘Open Code’, a wooden gaming table with sandblasted aluminum dominoes, which invited the audience to refer to the historical connection between Harewood House and the West Indian sugar trade – an act of radical corrective performance.
“It’s an intimate space,” Collins describes of his studio, where he holds awards such as the Design Museum’s Ralph Saltzman Prize and the 2021 London Design Emerging Medal. (Opens in a new tab). In addition to working with furniture brands such as Vaarnii and Benchmark, with her work shown in galleries such as The New Craftsmen and Stems Gallery, fine art is an avenue Collins is keen to explore further.
Building a strong, dynamic studio is the goal for Collins. It is already achieving this by experimenting with new materials such as cast aluminum and “coatings, which is new territory and a really important step”. Keeping track of the results of installations, products and sculptures is key to ensure his messages reach different audiences. In the background, she balances between design and making, but wants to create work that can be “experienced outside of the gallery environment”.
It is clear that Collins is developing a new generation in design. “I think the industry is going to be a lot more interesting with people who wouldn’t normally be exposed to that kind of world.” Is a Mac Collins Institute or educational residency on the horizon in the coming years? “That’s the ultimate dream, I think we’re still some time away from it.” Watch this space.
maccollins.com (Opens in a new tab)
A version of this story will appear in the January 2023 issue of Wallpaper*, The Future Issue, which is available now in print, in the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and for Apple News + subscribers. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today (Opens in a new tab)